Paying It Forward

Based on a recent Instagram poll, 80% of our readers expressed that they felt that they didn't volunteer/give back to their communities enough.

I get it, we all lead busy lives. By the time we wrap up our long days at work, we still have cooking, gym, reading, perhaps even some studying to do. Volunteering? Who has time for that?

I certainly fell in that "I'm too busy" camp in my first few years out of college. Now that I am five years out, I've flipped 180°. I volunteer at the New York Public Library as a career coach, am on the junior board of a non-profit called ProjectExplorer.org (whose mission of increasing global awareness and cross-cultural understanding is one I firmly believe in - especially in the world we live in today), and I spend another hour or two a week on mentoring college kids.

So what changed? It's not that I have "more time" now, my attitude changed. And so can yours. Just like there is always room for dessert, that is always time for paying it forward.

Here are some tips on getting back at it with your volunteering efforts:

 

  • Don't ride the mentor bandwagon. Unless you truly care about it.

Mentoring kids is great but volunteering for the long-term is about finding a cause you actually care about. Attend an orientation before you fully sign up. If you leave the orientation without your heart feeling achy enough, that's not the cause for you. Finding the right cause means you are more likely to remain committed. We are all busy and you will end up skipping/missing sessions if your heart is simply not in it. A lot of times we default to mentoring kids because it seems to be the most popular option. If you aren't good with kids or lack the patience to teach little ones, perhaps mentoring isn't the best fit for you.

Here's a quick anecdote. It was a chilly winter evening in January 2017 where I found myself thinking of the kid I tutored at The Fresh Air Fund, an amazing non-profit for kids from low income families that provides free tutoring and summer camps. I thought to myself, "Why didn't I continue that volunteering effort?" The student I had was a genius and my contributions felt futile, not to mention the hours were long. I wanted to restart volunteering again but didn't know where to begin. That's when I landed on VolunteerMatch.org and checked off the boxes that I felt a greater tie to. "Women", "Education & Literacy" and "Hunger" are just some options. Mentoring fell in the education bucket but I learned, through this process, that I preferred mentoring older college kids and adults. Be honest with yourself with what causes you feel most connected to.

 

  • Be realistic about how much time you can set aside. And stick to it.

This is the most important. Communicate your expectations to the organization up front. If you can only meet 2 hours a week from 6-8 pm on Wednesdays, then say so. Don't check the box off that says you are available Mondays - Fridays "in the evenings". If the expectations are not aligned, then keep looking. Commitment is key in delivering your impact to the organization and in feeling fulfilled.

Up until September 2017, I had been doing weekly career coaching sessions at the NYPL for an hour. Having started a new job in the Fall and unsure of my new workload and schedule, the thought of quitting, admittedly, ran through my head. Instead of dropping the ball however, I offered the organizer a biweekly option at a time to which was agreeable on both fronts!

Being a volunteer coach is often a highlight of my week purely from the joy I would see on my clients' faces. Once you're at that stage of making an impact, it is hard to turn back. There's no feeling quite like helping someone else in need.

 

  • Join a junior board.

Why not just volunteer, you ask? Joining a junior board gives you an inside look into the organization and seeing how it functions. You can learn how it gets its funding, where the money goes, and help the non-profit accomplish its goals from a strategic and tactical perspective. You can join specific committees such as fundraising or marketing/brand awareness and put your consultant hat to work. It is also a great way to expand your network with those that are interested in the same cause as you! BoardAssist.org is a great resource for this.

 

If you live in NYC, here are some interesting volunteering opportunities to check out:

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